Skip to main content

Nellie Zabel Willhite Collection

 Unprocessed Material — Multiple Containers
Identifier: H2014-022

Content Description

The collection consists of an oral history video interview from May 1985, images and research material on Nellie Zabel Willhite. Nellie Zabel was born in 1892 near Box Elder (S.D.). At age four she contracted measles resulting in the loss of her ability to hear. While a child, Nellie attended the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls (S.D.). She saw her first airplane in 1911 and took her first ride in 1919. She started flying lessons through the Dakota Airlines flying school in November of 1927. By 1929, Nellie was one of a little over 100 licensed female pilots in the world. She was the first deaf person to earn a pilot’s license. Nellie began barnstorming in the late 1920s and started to garner celebrity status as a female pilot in South Dakota. In October of 1933 Nellie taught a WPA Adult Education course on “Ground Aviation” and received an aviation Transport Rating. She was also an integral part of forming female aviation groups in South Dakota over several decades. Nellie kept her pilot’s license current up to the 1960s. Nellie died on September 2, 1991 at age 98 and is buried in Yankton. The interview, held on May 26, 1985, was held in Sioux Falls with Nellie Zabel Willhite being interviewed by Norma Hellmann with L.A. Kraemer filming the interview. The interview highlights Nellie’s life and experiences with aviation. The research materials include write-ups, scans, PowerPoints and images of various scenes mostly of Nellie and aviation.

Acquisition Type


Restrictions Apply



  • May 1985
  • ca. 1890s to 1990s


2.61 Gigabytes

1 dvds

1 cds

0.1 Cubic Feet